Some 2.2 billion of the planet's people are children. More than one billion of those live in poverty, according to the United Nations Children's Fund annual report on children around the world. That, and other sobering statistics in the UNICEF report should serve as a wake-up call for nations and individuals to do more to help the most vulnerable among us.
The report found 45 percent of the 3.6 million people killed by wars since 1990 have been children. In warfare, too many children also have been abandoned, abducted, physically or sexually abused, or exploited as soldiers.
UNICEF also estimates that more than 2 million children under 15 years of age have been diagnosed as having HIV. Fifteen million children have lost at least one parent to the disease (12.3 million of those children live in sub-Saharan Africa).
In India, home to about 20 percent of the world's children, UNICEF reports that more than half don't live in sanitary environments. Some 400 million, for instance, lack access to safe water.
At the same time, the report does identify some successes. The child mortality rate, for instance, was reduced by 11 percent between 1990 and 2002. UNICEF also reports that half the estimated 8,000 child soldiers in Afghanistan have gone back to school or job training. Studies have shown that girls who receive a basic education are more likely to be protected from HIV. UNICEF recently launched a program to get more girls in Western and Central Africa just such an education.
A 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed by 117 nations, calling on those governments, among other things, to spend more on eradicating childhood poverty and disease. The UNICEF report clearly shows that too many of those countries have not lived up to the agreement.
The report calls for a set of approaches to solve the crisis with the world's children. Reaching the most vulnerable children is the first step. Britain, for instance, gave UNICEF $88 million last week to assist its work with children orphaned by AIDS. But generally, what's most needed is to foster the commitment of individuals, families, businesses, and communities to get involved - and stay involved - in bettering the lives of children.
Though more money certainly can help, curing the problems of so many children will take far more that. At this holiday season, those free from poverty, disease, and war can remember to do what they can (volunteer, teach, contribute, sponsor a child - to name a few examples), to help more of the world's children live to adulthood and develop their potential.